Comparative Analysis: A Rose for Emily and The Yellow Wallpaper
Two pieces of literature may share many similarities, even if they are written by two different authors. Such is the case for A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. At first glance, a reader may not recognize how the stories are related to each other.
However, upon closer inspection, one would notice definite resemblances between the two aforementioned short stories. The most distinct connection between William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is the theme, which speaks of the apparent subordination of women.
In A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner tells the story of a woman named Emily Grierson. The entire story revolves around Emily, as seen through the eyes of the townspeople of Jefferson (Faulkner). Throughout the story, the community is fixated on the details of her life, as if the town had placed her under a microscope to closely observe.
She is a rather bizarre character, partly due to the seemingly failed relationships with the men of her life. She was completely sheltered by her father, and it was only upon his death when she was able to do live her own life. After her father died, she had a relationship with Homer Barron. The town thought he and Emily would get married. One day, she bought arsenic from the druggist. The people thought she would commit suicide. She did not, but they noticed that Homer disappeared. Soon, she began to isolate herself from society. After her death, they discovered that she used the arsenic to kill Homer, and his corpse was kept in a room. For many years before her death, she slept with the corpse (Faulkner).
In The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells the story of a woman, which is later identified as Jane, who spends her time in a rented mansion with her husband. She is suffering from depression, and was asked to simply rest and refrain from writing (Gilman). The room she was staying at had yellow wallpaper, and slowing she begins to see a creeping woman in the wallpaper. The woman in the wallpaper seems to be imprisoned, so Jane helps the woman by peeling off the wallpaper. In the end, Jane peels off all the wallpaper, and frees the woman—and herself (Gilman).
How do these two stories represent women as the subordinates of men? There are several elements to consider. To begin with, there is the specific portrayal of the two female characters. Emily was described in the story as a “fallen monument,” and “a tradition, a duty and a care” (qtd. in Faulkner). She is a character perceived in an idol status (Knickerbocker). She is similar to a “carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us” (Faulkner). From these descriptions, it may be implied that Emily was seen as an object, rather than a person. The qualities attached to her renders her less human than she really is. As for the townspeople, their perception of her was derived from the treatment of most influential person in her life—her father.
Emily’s father dominated her life. The Grierson family held themselves in such high esteem that they thought they were superior to everyone else. Her father took that self-importance to heart, and he turned away all of Emily’s suitors. According to the narrator, “none of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily” (Faulkner). There is another textual evidence of how controlling Emily’s father was. In the second section of the story, it states: “her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and crutching a horsewhip” (Faulkner). When her father died, she was in state of denial. Her father’s hold on her life was so strong that his passing affected her immensely. She initially refused to bury her father; the reason behind which is that “with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her” (Faulkner). It was only upon her father’s death that “she had become humanized” (Faulkner).
As for the initially unnamed protagonist in Gilman’s story, her life is also dominated by a man—this time by her husband John (Wayne). He keeps her in a room and prevents her from doing anything, not even writing. She is a prisoner of the house; she cannot do as she pleased. John may not be as strict as Emily’s father, but his treatment of his wife was demeaning nonetheless. John reduced her wife to infant status by the way he treats her (Wayne). He acts as if his wife were not an adult: “and dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me” (Gilman). In addition, he refers to her as a “little girl” (Gilman). In the story it appears as if she cannot manage to act by herself; it was stated that “he is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman). The female protagonist’s decisions are also overturned by her husband. According to the narrator, she did not like the room she was staying at and preferred another room, “but John would not hear of it” (Gilman). Lastly, he wanted her to live for him instead of her in this excerpt from the story: “He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake” (Gilman).
The liberation of Gilman’s heroine came in the form of wallpaper peeling. She had seen a woman in the wallpaper. Sometimes, there was more than one woman. The wallpaper woman appears to be trapped, if not imprisoned, in the wallpaper pattern that appears like bars (Wayne). Just like the wallpaper woman, the protagonist is also imprisoned in her rented place. The wallpaper is actually a symbol of how women are imprisoned or confined within the domestic sphere (Wayne). During the 19th century when this story was written, the responsibility of women was limited to managing the household and caring for the children. The wallpaper woman seeks to break out from her domestic prison, and the protagonist helps her to do so. In the end, the protagonist not only frees the wallpaper woman, but also herself. By peeling off the wallpaper, she had removed herself from the prison that was the house. It is also crucial to note that the protagonist had remained nameless for almost the entire duration of the story. The name Jane only appears in the end, when she is done peeling off the wallpaper. The revelation of the name meant that she only reclaimed her identity after peeling the wallpaper. Jane got her identity back after she liberated herself.
In both stories, the home or house is presented as a prison; both Emily and Jane are confined by it. Emily isolated herself from society after Homer’s disappearance. It is known that she chose to seclude herself due to the secret she had been hiding. However, it could also be because she unconsciously knew she belonged inside the house and nowhere else, due to the way her father raised her. Jane, on the other hand, seems to be raised by her husband as well. Rather than being treated as his wife, John acts like Jane is his daughter (Wayne). She is confined in the rented mansion, as well as in his unequal treatment of her. As if contemplating about her relationship with her husband, Jane said, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus” (Gilman).
Another similarity between the two short stories is the concept of being watched. In Emily’s case, she was not aware of how closely she was being watched; Jane, however, knew something or someone was watching her. Emily was such a prominent figure in Jefferson that every detail about her is discussed, as shown in the story’s narration. The narrator seemed to be the town eye: events of her life are presented as if witnessed by a bystander. She was such a controversial character in Jefferson that her death aroused curiosity among women. When a smell developed from her house, and some had to sneak in to remedy it with lime, people felt sorry for her. Her relationship with Homer was constantly watched too. When she bought arsenic, people speculated about her predicted suicide. In the entire story, the events of her life were constantly being watched by the townspeople. In Jane’s case, it was the wallpaper that was watching her. According to Jane, “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (Gilman). Jane was constantly watched by the woman in the wallpaper. She states, “Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere” (Gilman).
The last similarity between the two short stories is the issue of insanity or mental instability. Both characters are marked by a certain psychological condition that makes them seem crazy. When Homer’s body was found in Emily’s house, it was described as one which “apparently lain in the attitude of embrace” (Faulkner). It is obvious that someone in her right mind would not sleep with a corpse. The narrator said that when Emily refused to acknowledge the death of her father, “we did not say she was crazy then” (Faulkner). This comment seems to suggest that after the corpse was found, the townspeople do consider her as crazy now (Wayne). As for Jane, anyone who claims to have seen a woman creeping about in a wallpaper would surely be labeled as insane. Someone who would see an inanimate object and claim that it is in motion would surely be thought of as crazy. Jane’s character is indeed perceived as insane (Wayne).
It is also important to point out that it is the men in their lives that have contributed to their mental decline. Emily’s father has sheltered his daughter enough to render her incapable in developing genuine relationships with people. That is why when Homer came along, Emily made sure he would not leave her by killing him and keeping his body. Jane’s insanity was John’s fault, as he imprisoned her in the house, treated her like a child, and made her do nothing.
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman are two great pieces of literature. Both are short stories that have more depth and symbolism that may be missed upon first reading. The author’s may not have intended it, but these stories have more similarities that expected.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Ariyam.com. 7 April 2008 <http://www.ariyam.com/docs/lit/wf_rose.html>.
Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” College of Staten Island Library. 7 April 2008 <http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper.html>.
Knickerbocker, Eric. “William Faulkner: The Faded Rose of Emily.” Mr. Renaissance. 15 March 2003. 7 April 2008 <http://www.mrrena.com/misc/emily.shtml>.
Wayne, Teddy. “GradeSaver: The Yellow Wallpaper- Study Guide.” GradeSaver.com. 7 April 2008 <http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/wallpaper/>.
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